Business Ethics: The Six Pillars of Character

Business Ethics: The Six Pillars of Character
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  • 0:03 Ethics
  • 1:06 Trustworthiness
  • 2:00 Respect & Responsibility
  • 2:57 Fairness
  • 3:40 Caring & Citizenship
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Loy

Dr. Loy has a Ph.D. in Resource Economics; master's degrees in economics, human resources, and safety; and has taught masters and doctorate level courses in statistics, research methods, economics, and management.

In this lesson, we'll discuss the process for making ethical decisions. We'll also explore the six pillars of character and how to promote and implement them in the workplace.


'Each person must live their life as a model for others,' proclaimed civil rights activist Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks is a historical icon whose beliefs made her a controversial figure. Some believed her stance on civil rights was completely unethical, while other cheered for her ethics.

What is ethical is one of those topics that's often left open to interpretation. Most of us define ethics as the moral principles that guide our behavior; however, what seems like an ethical decision to me may not be to you. Religion, culture, laws, norms, and politics are beliefs, not ethical values. It's important to separate beliefs from the ethical principles that guide our conduct in business.

What informally regulates the inner workings of the business community is a set of principles that dictate behavior. The six pillars of character from the book Making Ethical Decisions include trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. Let's take a look at each of these traits.


Trustworthiness is a complicated and valued pillar, especially in business. One decision can tarnish your reputation as a trustworthy individual, and what one person sees as good business another may see as unethical. In relation to trustworthiness, you have to ask yourself whether or not you're acting in a way that you would value in a relationship. For example, are you known for keeping your word when making deals? Are you a straight shooter when interacting with competitors? Do you use deception to poach employees? Do you promise raises and not give them? Deceiving or undermining others when engaging in business can result in a reputation as a cheat, even to those you supervise.

To ensure you are displaying trustworthiness, you should:

  • Be honest, sincere, and candid
  • Act with integrity according to your beliefs
  • Be reliable when making commitments

Respect & Responsibility

Respect refers to the treating of others as you wish to be treated. For instance, do you allow workers to be autonomous? Do you use foul language? Do you give employees opportunities to present new ideas? Do you tolerate complaints about the working environment? A huge part of being respectful in business is to have an open door policy that allows you to listen to employees.

To show respect, you should:

  • Be courteous
  • Act with dignity
  • Give autonomy
  • Tolerate contrary opinions
  • Accept criticism

Responsibility should be given when employees strive to meet and exceed job expectations. For example, are managers held accountable? Are there consequences to bad behavior? Is teamwork rewarded? Do you plan ahead?

To promote responsibility, you can:

  • Create a culture of continuous improvement
  • Hold employees accountable
  • Reward people for engaging in self-restraint


Fairness is something that managers deal with when policies are implemented and decisions are made. For instance, are women given more time off than men? Are men paid more than women? Do minorities face difficulties when pursuing promotions? Are people with disabilities discriminated against? Do you share success? Important questions like these have to be fairly analyzed from a leadership perspective.

To exhibit fairness, you should:

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